By Margaret DiBenedetto
There’s a tangle of yellow and white along an edge of the pond. Goldenrod, asters. Some jewelweed, too. Spike and I wander over. He’s on-leash, because if he wasn’t, he’d be dog-gone, and then I’d have to worry about the road, and him bothering the neighbors and the creatures he’d come across and tear after.
Today the mash-up of flowers is humming loudly. Dozens of bees. I see at least three different species of native bees, two of which are bumbles. They drone about thickly, laboriously, and heavy with pollen. Lots of pollen this year, lots of bees. I do feel bad about the plight of European honey bees, and I love both them and their honey. But let’s be honest: They were introduced. They mainly live in artificial environments, and that need to live in little cities is a critical factor in their demise. Herbicides and pesticides that weaken the immune system, plus close contact which spreads mites and fungi, equals disease. My case against living in a city.
Upwards of 50 species of bumblebees live in New York State, all from the wonderfully named genus of Bombus. They are immensely productive pollinators and they depend on nutrients from natural vegetation to survive. Bright red African or Asian flowers may look inviting, but their nutritive value for our birds and pollinators is minimal, or even completely lacking. Our indigenous birds and insects evolved with indigenous plants, and they need that native nectar, pure and simple.
I look at the pond. Down two feet, much lower than usual. I’m hopeful in thinking there’s still enough water to support the critters below the surface, and that the resulting rise in the water temperature hasn’t started to wipe them out. The two inflowing streams are barely a trickle. The pond is on its own. This feels like a drought, though technically we’re just on the cusp. This, from the informative yet downright depressing website drought.gov/states/new-york.
The combination of this summer’s heat and our current lack of water feels darkly prophetic. But we who live in the Catskills are fortunate; these cool, green hills keep us cooler and greener and saner than the rest of the country, which seems to be apocalyptically going to hell. This is our own slice of heaven, for which I am mighty grateful. But will our protection, safety, seclusion last forever? It can’t, can it? Reports are that in the not so distant future, we’ll remember the year 2022 as the good old days.
I take comfort, and derive hope from the actions and decisions of local groups and individuals who place the protection of the environment, and the future of our children, at the center of their efforts. If we concentrate on making conscientious decisions and taking care of our own little corner of the world—our families, our Catskills—we can work in very personal ways for our communities.
I’ll do what I can: plant native plants, install heat pumps. Remember to ask my neighbors not to brushhog their fields till late October or November (for the sake of the birds and the pollinators who still need food). Figure out how to buy an electric vehicle. Drive less. Stop buying cheap crap from the cheap crap store. Or Amazon. (Why those two? Because production of stuff uses lots of energy, and shipping it across oceans, and then across the US, also uses lots of energy. The thrift shop is just down the road.) Buy local food as much as possible. Same reason.
Also, I need to stop watching the damned TV and do something useful. Go for a walk. Read good books. Converse with my family and neighbors. There. Sanity in a few sentences.
Spike is pulling to go sniff around the base of the old oak where we’ve seen a porcupine, and where I think flying squirrels have a room at the top. On the way, I watch a couple of monarchs sail above the pond to the field on the other side. If they’re not headed south, they soon will be.
The dog and I migrate ourselves to the cabin. I look back and notice how many more leaves have turned yellow, and orange and red. Fall’s here; nights will be progressively chillier, if the seasons behave normally. The native, solitary bees will lay their eggs in holes and corners and crevices and underground bunkers, and the Bombus queens will over-winter underground as well. Buttoning up for the upcoming cold.
I think I’ll bring in some wood. And call the guy about a heat pump.~
Margaret DiBenedetto is the author of Ebony Bear, thewildlifestories.com